Straight From Shenzhen: HAX Spawns Cool Tech Projects
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A bunch of great hardware projects on Kickstarter right now have one thing in common: they all came out of the startup accelerator HAX. The folks at HAX (formerly Haxlr8r) invite promising teams with working prototypes to come to Shenzhen, China, for four months. Once they arrive, creators work with experts in a variety of fields to shape their designs, products and strategies. It’s like a boot camp for the world’s hardware-heads, in the heart of the most frenzied manufacturing hub on the planet.
We asked Benjamin Joffe, a general partner at HAX, to talk about the latest batch of creators they’ve helped.
Arduboy, a credit-card-sized hackable game system, by Kevin Bates
We got excited about this one because it's a fun device that can evolve in the hands of all the gaming enthusiasts out there. Kevin truly is a "maker" who is creating a startup because so many people told him they wanted his device. He swims like a fish in the electronics markets of Huaqiangbei and always comes back with some new gadget. He can be a big disturbance of the force in the office because he's always excited!
Electroloom, the world's first 3D printer for fabrics, from the Electroloom team
Electroloom is really something special — some backers called it "an Apple I moment for the fashion industry." Its creators perfected a technology called electrospinning that uses liquid polymer, needles and high voltage to project fabric filaments on a 3D mold of any shape. The team is great and we were happy to find them in another accelerator that had shifted to focus on software. They iterated on their prototype a lot faster than they could in Silicon Valley, and they vastly improved their technology. It's also good that they pretty much stopped getting electric shocks from their high-voltage setup.
Kokoon, smart headphones that you can sleep in, from Tim Antos and team
We liked Kokoon because it combines design, electronics, brainwave sensors and sleep science to solve real problems. The team had numerous challenges to overcome, including mechanical design for comfort, and industrial design. Audio quality was also a big concern, and we helped them sign a partnership with Onkyo, which was great. The last bit is the sensor technology, which is truly groundbreaking since it does not require skin contact. They have made great progress on this as well and we look forward to a fantastic product.
Linkitz, a code-able smart friendship bracelet for girls, from Lyssa Neel and team
We believe in this team's vision that there aren’t enough cool tech toys for girls, and that this can lower their interest in building things. But it’s tough to make something that girls will like and that also teaches them about tech. Linkitz went through several approaches and form factors. It was a challenge to pick the right connectors for their modular design, and they eventually ditched the audio plug in favor of something more flexible. It's looking good now!
C.H.I.P., the game-changing $9 computer, from Next Thing Co.
These guys are quite something: they are artists, or rather master craftsmen. Their first project was a hackable camera called OTTO. They wanted to offer it for less than $100, but the chip they were using was just too expensive (they were the first commercial product to use the Raspberry Pi Compute Module). During their Shenzhen stay, they realized that the chip they had dreamed of could be made, and they teamed up with a chip maker who also saw that opportunity. Their $9 computer will enable an explosion of creativity for connected devices. I love their attention to detail — you should hear them talk about the little crank they machined for the OTTO, or the icons they designed for the camera menu screen!
LightUp Faraday, a kit for kids to learn coding and circuits, from LightUp
With their first Kickstarter project, the LightUp team created a playful approach to science and tech education with a kit that has been used by tens of thousands of kids. It also developed a unique way to visualize the flow of electricity using augmented reality. When you see this for the first time, what comes to your mind is 'Eureka'! Their new Faraday kit is expanding this concept into coding. It’s a project that deserves more attention!
There will be several more HAX projects launching soon, including a cocktail-making robot named Bartesian and a finger-recognition controller for smartwatches called Aria. You can keep track of all the HAX projects over on their Kickstarter page.